America's right-slanted political landscape is not unknown to me. The U.S. has not had an established left for decades; its so-called "left" is the center-right Democrats and its "right" is nothing short of far-right extremism. This is something I have feared: for all the social and – to a more limited extent – economic victories of the Obama administration, America has stood fast as a right-wing nation and has on many fronts slid further to the far right. But despite all this, I never in a million years thought the next President of the United States would be that which you get if you cross a Nazi, a frat boy, and an orangutan with a bad comb-over – Donald Trump. It is sad to see Obama step down only to be replaced by a neo-fascist sympathizer who — like his most ardent followers and European equivalents — deals exclusively in so-called alternative facts, which are nothing short of falsehoods and lies.
President Obama and I are not fully aligned politically either; I am a leftist and he is, in many regards, a centrist or even a moderate right-winger (like Hillary). But I do respect Obama. He brought class to the White House after it was tainted by the clown we all know as Dubya. He was a step in the right direction for an America which had been ravaged by eight years of Bushisms. It is truly a disgrace that a man with such grace will be followed by an even bigger clown than Dubya – a man who, in fact, questioned Obama's very humanity with the overtly racist Birther conspiracy. It is deeply disturbing that a far right which has demonized and dehumanized Barack, Michelle, and their daughters for eight years now rises to power – and classy as ever, the entire Obama family has handled all of this, all the racist hatred directed toward them, with more dignity than Trump does when he responds to any and all criticism of his character, claims, or policies. Thus, I want to express the deepest gratitude to President Obama and his family for being great role models for minorities, women, and, indeed, everyone; thank you for your time in the White House – when white was just the paint on the building, not the supremacist ideology of the neo-fascists within. And finally, my sincere apologies for including the Obamas in a post which will deal mostly with Trump and the rise of the alt-right, in America as well as Europe.
The rise of Trump and the alt-right
From class to ass, let us talk about Donald Trump. He was sworn in last Friday, officially becoming the forty-fifth President of the United States. This marks a somewhat significant shift in America's political establishment: center-right neoliberal to far-right neo-fascist and, with Trump's plan to empower the private sector even further, more neoliberal than ever before. The future looks grim right now for the American working class, American minorities, American women, and the whole world. In contemporary times, solidarity has never been more important; the time to come together as a unified front against neo-fascism and the worldwide rise of the right is now.
The alt-right and Trump are talking about unity and coming together to "make America great again." But their idea of unity is conformity with their regressive values; their idea of unity is homogenization and eradication. They want us – the left – to abandon that in which we believe just so they – the far right – can have a sense of peace, knowing they can push through their bigoted and greedy agenda without resistance. They think they have won and are asking us to lay down arms. But I will tell you this: We will never lay down arms; we will not waver or go away; we will fight the right for our rights with everything we've got. The same is true for Europe, where the establishment is shifting to the right and the far right is rising; we will not give up our rights, our values, or our social democracy — a more accurate term for what in mainstream media is known as democratic socialism — without peaceful but persistent resistance.
Indeed, complacency is something we cannot afford right now, or ever. The right and the far right have the tribalistic, self-serving, and easy answers many (think they) want, even though many of those who vote for the right are directly or indirectly hurt by the consequences of the right's social and economic ideologies. Sadly, people may never stop looking for a scapegoat to blame in order to make themselves feel superior and safe knowing there is a simple and final solution, and the far right is able to provide such an imaginary enemy – any group which is distinguishable and different enough to set aside from the rest.
The right will always be a threat to the social programs and regulations any society needs to function well and to improve the living conditions of the people; one can with relative ease sway voters with the promise of personal prosperity at the expense of the collective (which is just "lazy" anyway) and the greater good ("but what about ME?"). This is exactly what the right does, even though the vast majority of people will be hurt by right-wing economic policies and a gutted welfare system – not to mention the regressive social policies which will hurt mostly minorities but also women. The right has a knack for pitting the poor against each other so they will betray their own interests as well as the greater good in favor of an agenda which will benefit only the privileged few, who do not need more privilege than they already have. Right-wing rhetoric is crafted to appeal to the greediest and most tribalistic part of our nature, and it is sadly quite effective. To safeguard our future, we must teach our children critical thinking and the value of sharing. We must create a world in which empty rhetoric and alternative facts are not as powerful as they still are.
The left has won the social front of the cultural war, which is not to say bigotry is completely or even close to eradicated as the alt-right has proven. But the balance of power still lies on the left, and it is vital not to let this balance shift to the right. America, and perhaps soon Europe, may be set back in the immediate future, but the cultural establishment is pro-LGBT, pro-women, pro-POC, and pro-diversity. It must remain this way. It would be foolish not to fear for our values and fight to keep them; the right is always trying to push us back. We have to be steadfast in our progressive agenda and mercilessly shut down any establishment which thinks it is free to discriminate without repercussions: this means boycotting discriminatory businesses; it means protesting relentlessly, outside businesses, public offices, and wherever we can be heard; it means spreading awareness online and offline; it means calling public officials; it means VOTING; it means whatever we can do to, peacefully, defend the values of the free world. We have come too far to go back now; do not let the regressives forget that. Trump may have won the election (because of the Electoral College), but he has not won the culture. Brexit emerged victorious in the United Kingdom, barely, but the culture belongs to the left. And the future belongs to the young, who favored Bernie and opposed Brexit. The culture and the future belong to us, as long as we are prepared to fight for it.
Left-wing economic policies could be difficult to get back once we lose them. America did once have a strong welfare state – the New Deal – which was dismantled and has since been little more than a pipe dream of which weakened remnants are all that remain. This may have happened because America's right crafted extremely effective rhetoric in the midst of anti-communist hysteria, but America's established left was essentially eradicated. Over time the power balance has landed between the right and the far right. However, Bernie proved that America – especially its youth – is ready for a return to left-wing economics. It will not be easy and there are several structural roadblocks, including the first-past-the-post voting system, the Electoral College, and the neoliberal elite, but it can be done. America has moved left on social issues, even though it remains one of the most overtly racist and misogynistic nations in the west, and I believe it can also move to the left on economic issues – and, indeed, it has to, because a power balance between the right and the far right is not healthy; it pushes any and all leftism to the fringe and normalizes racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and nationalism.
Meanwhile, the European left is losing ground to the right, which in turn is losing ground to the far right. Europe is taking its welfare for granted; we have forgotten how important it is and are starting to follow the same path America once did. Strangely, even with its right-wing establishment, the U.S. may soon be in the best position to create and sustain a welfare state and left-wing economic policies; (young) Americans have seen how well it can work, but they do not take it for granted because they do not have it. They may already have learned their lesson: granting more power to the private sector, corporations, and the privileged few will neither help the working and middle classes nor be beneficial for the nation and economy as a whole. You know this, America; you have lived this; you live this now and will for at least four more years. Make your experiences count in the years to come – mobilize for every election and every opportunity in between.
Europeans are swiftly forgetting this lesson and are systematically trying to dismantle the welfare system which keeps us prosperous. People have lost faith in unions because they believe they, personally, have not benefited from them; the thing is, though, they have: the unions built the working and middle classes and established the rights and wages workers now take for granted, and they are still maintaining these rights and wages today. Europeans are also taking for granted the social programs on which most of us rely in one way or another, whether its healthcare or education. To put it simply, Europeans have forgotten why the center-left social democrats rose to power in the first place, and once we have dismantled all that the social democrats built, once it is gone, we will miss it. Perhaps not today, when we have immigrants to blame for our problems, but one day – just like many Americans do now as Bernie proved. Keep feeling the Bern, America, and you may one day have a center-left political establishment, like much of Europe has had for so long. Meanwhile, we in Europe have much to do, as well, if we are to keep our social democracy and social values. Because there are scary neo-fascists with surprisingly effective rhetoric everywhere these days; they are ideologically rigid and extreme; we can break them if we do not submit to the dangers of apathy.
It would be easy to fall into a pit of despair and enter a state of apathetic inaction, because the future of the whole world, not merely America, looks dark right now. The far right is no longer a fringe element of the right which can be ignored; their figurehead is the President of the United States. In my mind, Trump was not as ideologically rigid or even extreme as the worst of his followers or even other public figures on the far right; I still think Ted Cruz, in many ways, was scarier than Trump – except he did not have the alt-right following him like a god (which I will get back to in a couple of paragraphs). I hoped Trump was mostly just full of hot air and would not, as president, be who he was on his worst days during the election. But after he was elected and during his first days in office, he has doubled down on his most fascist and destructive statements: he has surrounded himself with Christian fundamentalists and Breitbart extremists, basically people who are even scarier than himself; he has unapologetically kept up his nationalist and xenophobic rhetoric, such as "America first"; and he has started tearing down all the good the Obama administration did on multiple fronts, including targeting Obamacare without any viable alternative (the only viable option is a single-payer system, which the rest of the west has proven works best), empowering the corporations with fewer regulations, and pushing the environment toward a cataclysmic shift equivalent to mass extinction, war, and the end of the world as we know it.
I do not disagree with every single decision Trump has made. For example, he withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was a terrible trade agreement. Indeed, leftists like myself and Bernie actively oppose bad trade agreements, which we have in common with nationalists like Trump. However, the difference is the reasons for opposing such trade agreements and the intent of withdrawing from them. Trade agreements should be carefully examined because they can easily empower the corporations, pull down wages, dissolve worker rights, and destroy the middle class. While I do not doubt that Trump honestly thinks he will help the struggling workers of America, he is approaching the issue from a nationalist perspective. It is not about lessening the damage of capitalism; it is about benefiting us and not them, the bad foreigners. Donald Trump is certainly no social democrat and definitely not part of the proletariat; he has no real solutions for the working poor and the shrinking middle class. Pulling out of the TPP was the right decision, but it is what he does next that matters. He has sewn together a wound, but how will he treat the infection? He won't.
However, his followers believe he will; they truly believe he is on their side and has the solutions to all of their problems. As I mentioned earlier, they essentially view him as a god and treat his infallible word as Christian fundamentalists and Islamists treat their god's infallible word. In their bubble, whatever Trump or his lackeys say is true is true, even when it is easily disproven; whatever they say is false is false, even if it is a verifiable fact. To defend his bubble, Trump and his pack have essentially declared war on the media, which is a troubling sign in a leader. And here, he is once again showcasing the mindset of the right when he talks about "the media" as if it were a homogenous group which can be designated the enemy. Given this declaration of war and how members of the alt-right have celebrated the ruthless dictator/murderer Putin, who puts to death those who do not express themselves in a way he sees fit, it would not surprise me if the alt-right's agenda includes limiting the free speech that they have claimed to love ever since they noticed they do not like being called out as the racist, xenophobic, misogynist neo-fascists they are.
Seldom do you see a group which is as secluded in its bubble as the alt-right; only ultra-conservative, religious communities are as sheltered as the alt-right from everyone else's reality which contradicts their own. The far right keeps accusing the left of needing a safe space for being triggered, but it is almost always the far right which is triggered by any fact that contradicts them, any expression that does not fit in their bubble, and any opinion that opposes theirs; they talk about freedom, but their ideology actively restricts cultural, political, religious, and artistic expression to their narrow-minded and monolithic definition of the nation they share with so many others. And as Kellyanne Conway admitted, they deal in alternative facts, which is essentially another way of saying falsehoods or outright lies – of which Trump's inaugural address was full.
Trump's inaugural rhetoric and detrimental policies
All in all, I thought Trump's inaugural address was good – frighteningly good, in fact. Trump can express himself coherently and cohesively as long as someone else writes his speeches and he fights his urges to digress. But while it was rhetorically effective, playing on the audience's emotions and presenting ideas in positive wrappings, the speech was obviously little more than rhetoric narrowly hiding a destructive ideology. It was good of him not to make his speech an addendum to his lists of enemies; he even thanked, among others, President Obama, although it looked like it pained him to do so, and Obama did not appear very comfortable either. But this is the little for which I can praise him; the rest was merely a strange blend of nationalist and neoliberal rhetoric.
Like many on the far right, Trump (or his speech writers) co-opted leftist positions and turned them into empty rhetoric to support his right-wing platform. This was a recurring theme throughout the speech: he made promises to help the working poor; he quite often talked about the people (well, the nationalist variant "our people") and, not in so many words, the collective; he, rightly, pointed out how the privileged few reap the rewards of America's government while the people do not share in this wealth. But he made it seem like it is the politicians who are these privileged few; he made no mention of greedy corporations or billionaires that get tax breaks and government subsidies as well as use their money to influence the government. He mentioned that it is the people who pay for the prosperity of the privileged few, which is also true. But based on his positions and what he has promised to do, he is not going to help those people or redistribute any wealth from the top down.
Trump's agenda includes reducing taxes "across the board," which will disproportionally benefit the rich. His tax plan does mention reducing taxes "especially for working and middle-income Americans," but even if this were true, it would be the rich who gain the most. The working poor and the middle class will lose more than they gain, because tax cuts mean less money for social programs on which many Americans rely and which need to be expanded. Since Trump has also promised to increase military funding, which is already immense, one does wonder from where funding for these social programs will come, which brings us back to a point I made earlier: the right uses the promise of personal prosperity to sell policies which will benefit only those who do not need it, while it hurts those who needed that which they were fooled into giving up.
I took the opportunity to go through Trump's "vision" as he called his tax plan. He specifically promises to "ensure the rich will pay their fair share," which is the co-opted leftist idea, but then he undermines this promise with his true, right-wing intention which is rhetorically presented as no one paying "so much that it destroys jobs or undermines our ability to compete." So he will force the rich to pay their fair share by reducing the amount by which the fair share is defined, meaning it is, once again, the rich who will benefit. I glanced at his tax rates and the old ones. The highest earners get a 6.6 percentage point reduction (down from 39.6% to 33%), while those at the bottom get only a 3 percentage point reduction (down from 15% to 12%), while those at the bottom of the bottom actually have their tax rate increased by two points (up from 10% to 12%). Keep in mind then that the tax reduction for those at the bottom will in effect mean a few measly bucks a week, while those at the top will earn hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars. It is important to look past the rhetoric: as usual, Donald Trump is a privileged right-winger whose policies benefit the rich (including himself and his cabinet) at the expense of the poor, who are convinced it will benefit them, too, even though it won't.
Trump's tax plan also promises to "eliminate special interest loopholes," which is again an empty, left-sounding promise, because right thereafter it says he will "make [the] business tax rate more competitive [...]" Once more, he has undercut his original promise. He will eliminate tax loopholes, but will also lower the rate at which corporations pay taxes so they will no longer need loopholes to barely pay taxes. The majority of his tax plan, which at a glance may appear good, benefits the privileged few at the expense of the average American and the economy, which requires money to circulate in order to function well. It is the circulation of money which stimulates business and economic growth, and money circulates when it is put in the hands of the many, not the privileged few. Thus, wealth must be redistributed down; token tax cuts for the poor in order to justify massive tax cuts for the rich will achieve the reverse — redistribution of wealth upward.
Trump campaigned on being anti-establishment and indirectly struck this chord again during his inaugural speech, when he talked about how all Americans will now partake in the country's wealth and that the people have the power back; he went as far as to say that his inauguration will be remembered as "the day the people became the rulers of this nation again." However, not only did he lose the popular vote, but his actions contradict his words. His cabinet is the wealthiest in modern American history. The oligarchs did not lose power when Trump took over; they gained positions in government and now have a new figurehead who is more aligned with their agenda than anybody before.
Furthermore, Trump's proposed and actual deregulations are exclusively beneficial for the corporations and the oligarchs. If you were, rightly, afraid of Hillary's pro-fracking positions, you should be petrified of what Trump means for the future of the environment. If you were, justly, critical of Hillary's pro-corporate and pro-Wall Street ties, what Trump has in store ought to make you sick. Donald Trump may not have been establishment before, but he is now and he is worse than the last one. His government is of the rich and for the rich; it is of the white, Christian man and for the white, Christian man. The one positive that could come out of this is that it might be a wake-up call for Sane America.
Throughout his inaugural address, Trump struck several nationalist chords. He spoke of a "national effort" to "rebuild our country" and "restore its promise for all of our people." There is nothing wrong with this statement in and of itself, but I would like to point out his use of the word "our" and a vaguely defined carrot: America's promise to its people. This is a common rhetorical device in American politics and of the right – the American dream as it is called in the U.S., the claim that anyone can succeed if they work hard. This is a lie. Arbeit macht nicht frei. The structural problems of poverty which exist in all capitalist societies (and, indeed, all societies as there are no perfect utopias, only systems that work better or worse) cannot be solved if the individual just works harder. "Work hard to succeed" is just another empty promise with which to subjugate the masses; it is the core tenet of the neoliberal religion. In using this false promise, Trump is not only brainwashing his followers with neoliberal propaganda, but he is firing up their patriotism and shutting off their critical thinking.
Another thing which is noteworthy is how the right demonizes the poor by spreading lies about them. One such lie is that they are lazy moochers who do nothing but live off of welfare. There was no direct mention of this in the speech, as I believe Trump wanted to address the nation with positivity, but he did say, "We will get our people off of welfare and back to work." To me, this signals intent to slash funding for welfare, which he may have to if he is to increase military funding and cut taxes. The problem with this is that many who work need welfare because of stagnant wages, and unemployment will never be at zero. I also doubt Trump will be able to create as many jobs as he thinks and the jobs he does create will likely be minimum wage, which will not help much at all as he is unlikely to increase the minimum wage – currently a starvation wage or slave wage – to a living wage.
He continued his nationalist rhetoric by painting a grim picture of America and proclaiming that "this American carnage stops right here and stops right now." The bleak description of America was not completely false, but Trump's solutions are no solutions and the far right tends to invent problems which do not exist and causes which are not real; a common narrative is to blame immigrants, often by utilizing alternative facts and alternative statistics which have little to no basis in reality. While he did not specifically mention immigration, he talked about defending the borders (from whatever imagined threat he and his ilk can will themselves into perceiving) and said, "We will bring back our borders," which, of course, exist only on a map but never went anywhere. He could also be talking about economics, as the alt-right values protectionism, as does Trump when he said, "Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength."
However, protectionism and weaker ties between countries will not help the world; all of humanity needs to come together if we are to survive the threat of ourselves. Trump said "it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first," but this is not true. We must all put the interests of the world and of humanity first. This is why we have the United Nations and why it is important that all nations agree on certain principles on a variety of issues, such as on climate and how we ought to handle the climate change crisis. Whether we like it or not, we live in a global society and it is vital that we cooperate to create a bright future and it is our moral obligation to strive for a world in which all human beings all over the world have inalienable human rights.
There were some parts of the inaugural address which were creepier than others. He covered how other countries have leached off of America's military, which is strange. I do not recall anyone forcing or even asking the U.S. to establish its military dominance throughout the world. He mentioned how there is a "depletion" of America's military, the most powerful military in the world. The fact that he and people like him see increased military might as their primary concern is cause for concern. The U.S. does not need to have a military as powerful as they do now merely for defense. He also mentioned a "glorious destiny," which I dare not ask what it is. Perhaps it had something to do with his claim that he will "determine the course of America and the world for many years to come."
It seems globalism is not a bad thing as long as the alt-right's tribe gets to boss around all the other tribes; they want to take part in a global effort to shape the future for us all, but only if their tribe gets to be the supreme leader. They are nationalists with a global agenda, not completely unlike Hitler. Now, do I think Donald Trump is interested in world domination in the same sense as Hitler? No, not really. But his ideas for America's role in the world and what defines an American and a good human being are in the same category as Hitler's Third Reich. Indeed, when he said, "You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before," all I could think was two words – Nazi Germany.
I know, I know, Godwin's Law. But what has the world come to if far-right nationalists cannot be compared to history's most famous far-right nationalist? The alt-right ideology is overtly and extremely nationalist and supremacist, economically protectionist (another possible tenet of neo-fascism), and, based on Trump's inaugural address, imperialistic through, in part, military might. According to Robert Paxton, fascism is "a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood [...]" This kind of behavior is displayed by the alt-right as well as fundamentalist Christians, who are convinced that America was once great (community decline), the world is laughing at them (humiliation – also kind of true, but they think the world is laughing because of Obama, which is delusional), and they are the poor "silent majority" which is persecuted by "the media" and evil minorities (victimhood). Trump has basically been throwing a tantrum every day because he feels he is victimized by the media, and the alt-right is convinced there is a white genocide because they have to live in societies which are not monolithic blocks of whites.
I admit I chuckled when Trump said, "America will start winning again. Winning like never before." It reminded me of how Charlie Sheen is winning. It also tickled my funny bone when he promised to eradicate radical Islamic terrorism completely, because it cannot be done. The fundamental ideology will always be there, capable of radicalizing. I suppose the only way would be to burn everything Islamic and murder all Muslims, to wipe Islam off the face of the Earth. But that would be just a tiny bit worse than what "the enemy" has done, and the Islamic god is not the only god which inspires extremism. Indeed, it was creepy (as well as funny) when Trump mentioned God, for two reasons: 1) while godly is not a synonym with moral, Trump does not seem like the godly type, but I suppose delusional neo-fascists crave self-awarded praise from an imaginary, radical god; and 2) the mindset that you have God, the supreme creator and lord of the universe, on your side is extremely dangerous; it has throughout history been used to justify the most heinous of crimes against humanity, which is also why his talk of "righteous people" did not sit well with me.
The speech left me with chills. Trump ran a campaign on xenophobia, racism, misogyny, and nationalism, and he did not start his first day as president much better. He said that "when you open your hearts to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice," but there is much prejudice in his heart and patriotism is the source of much antagonism. Trump's cult following is not monolithic, of course, but it is full of neo-fascists and white supremacists as well as Nazi sympathizers. And, indeed, it is their ideology Trump echoed when he said, "From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it's going to be only America first. America first." If Trump's inaugural address, cabinet picks, and early executive orders are any measure of what his presidency will be like, the world is heading for four dark years – four years of American neo-fascism.
It truly is a disgrace that the U.S. could have had a center-left political establishment if America's "left" (everything to the left of the far right) had gone with the immensely popular Bernie, but because of how the establishment protected itself, we ended up with a far-right orangutan as the President of the United States. America has been a joke for a long time, but now they have the clown to prove it. As I said earlier, in contemporary times, solidarity has never been more important; the time to come together as a unified front against neo-fascism and the worldwide rise of the right is now. We must all do our part and not watch silently as the world crumbles around us. Never give up on what is right; never give in to far-right extremism.